Libya Tribune

By Iffat Idris

The report is a publication of the Department for International Development, Published on 12 Jan 2017. 

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The literature on gender equality, development and security suggests that sustainable peace and successful long-term development are linked to gender equality policies (Selimovic & Larsson, 2014: 5).

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR 1325), approved in 2000, reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building, and in postconflict reconstruction.

It calls for equal participation of women in decision-making related to peace processes, protection of women from violence, in particular sexual violence in armed conflict situations, and gender mainstreaming in conflict management and peace building efforts.

SCR 1325 was ‘the Security Council’s first resolution that recognised the specific risks to and experiences of women in armed conflict and women’s central role in maintaining international peace and security’ (HRW, 2015: 4).

A series of subsequent Security Council resolutions have reinforced the women, peace and security (WPS) agenda laid out in SCR 1325: 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1960 (2010), 2106 (2013), 2122 (2013)2 and 2242 (2015).

Despite growing international recognition of SCR 1325 as a global norm, on the ground implementation has been slow and arduous. Issues include lack of funding for grassroots women’s organisations, and challenges evaluating implementation such as lack of timely and disaggregated data (HRW, 2015: 5).

Moreover, ‘gender rights tend to be moved down the list of priorities in precarious transitions from war to peace – by international as well as national stakeholders’ (Selimovic & Larsson, 2014: 5). This has certainly been the case in Libya.

Over five years since the 2011 revolution, Libya remains far from reaching a consensus political settlement, or indeed even establishing a stable interim arrangement (Idris, 2016). There are currently three governments laying claim to power: the General National Congress (GNC) and Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, and the House of Representatives (HoR) in the east (Freedom House, 2016).

The country is deeply divided along political, geographic, religious and ethnic lines. There are numerous armed groups engaged in local, regional and national conflicts. Implementation of SCR 1325 and associated WPS resolutions in such a context is extremely challenging.

Key findings are as follows:

  • Active role of women in Libyan revolution: Women played a leading role in the buildup to the Libyan revolution. Whilst generally not directly involved in fighting they contributed in many other ways, e.g. smuggling weapons, supplying food and medicines (Hammer, 2012). The expectation was that the revolution would lead to empowerment of women in Libya (Hilsum, 2014a).
  • Post-revolution marginalisation of women in politics: Women found themselves being side-lined as new government bodies were set up. Intensive advocacy was needed to ensure women’s representation in the General National Congress (GNC), but the quota for women was subsequently dropped to 10 percent in the critical Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) (ICAN, 2013; CNTJ & NPWJ, 2014). Obstacles to women’s political participation include patriarchal cultural attitudes and rising conservatism, threats and attacks on women in politics, and limited international support (ICAN, 2013; IFES, 2013; Selimovic & Larsson, 2014; UNDP, 2015).
  • Negligible participation of women in national peace processes: Women have similarly been involved to a very limited extent in national (including UN-led) peace processes, though they have shown the potential to play an important role in local mediation and reconciliation (Selimovic & Larsson, 2014).
  • Conflict-related sexual violence and lack of accountability: Sexual-related violence was widespread during the revolution, directed against men as well as women, and perpetrated not just by the regime but also rebels (CNTJ & NPWJ, 2014; ICAN, 2013). Accountability and securing justice for victims is made extremely difficult by the huge social stigma attached to rape, as well as issues like lack of forensic evidence. The GNC did draft a law recognising rape as a war crime and providing for reparations for victims, but this has not yet been approved (CNTJ & NPWJ, 2014; Selimovic & Larsson, 2014).
  • Ongoing conflict and insecurity leading to greater restrictions on women: Sustained insecurity in Libya is increasingly restricting women’s access to the public sphere, in particular because families see the need to protect them and thereby safeguard family honour (IFES, 2013; ICAN, 2013). Domestic violence is thought to be more prevalent and more intense since the revolution, largely because of small arms proliferation in Libyan society (Khalifah, 2015).
  • Limited participation of women in security and justice sector: Women have very limited representation in armed forces, the police and other security services. This is because of patriarchal cultural attitudes, ongoing insecurity, and Gaddafi’s policy of using female guards – widely seen as ‘sex slaves’ – and the resulting negative view of women in the security sector (ICAN, 2013; UNDP, 2015). Women have also been excluded from international initiatives for security sector reform (ICAN, 2013).
  • Nominal support of international community for WPS in Libya: Despite commitments to implementing SCR 1325 and associated resolutions in Libya, the international community has a tendency to shy away from pushing for women’s rights in the face of local opposition. Critics argue that ignoring gender equality will make it difficult to achieve sustained peace (Selimovic & Larsson, 2014).

While the revolution carried the potential to bring about meaningful empowerment of women, in practice women face strong opposition from both traditionalists holding patriarchal attitudes and Islamists. This is leading some to question if the situation of women in Libya has improved since Gaddafi’s ouster or deteriorated (Hilsum, 2014b; Selimovic & Larsson, 2014; Salah, 2014).

The K4D helpdesk service provides brief summaries of current research, evidence, and lessons learned. Helpdesk reports are not rigorous or systematic reviews; they are intended to provide an introduction to the most important evidence related to a research question. They draw on a rapid desk-based review of published literature and consultation with subject specialists.

Helpdesk reports are commissioned by the UK Department for International Development and other Government departments, but the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of DFID, the UK Government, K4D or any other contributing organisation.

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Iffat Idris, University of Birmingham

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